Just like Chicago Cubs fans, Republicans in Frankfort are saying this will be the year.
For more than 90 years, Democrats have controlled the Kentucky House of Representatives, but Republicans are on the offensive in several House races this fall as Kentucky’s electorate continues its slow march to the political right.
Democrats have a 53-47 majority in the House, which means the GOP needs to pick up four seats to win the majority. Republicans hope to accomplish that by using a considerable financial advantage to go after vulnerable Democrats in Eastern Kentucky and the seats where a Democratic incumbent has stepped down.
Democrats, though, are fighting back, focusing their efforts on unseating lawmakers who switched to the Republican Party after Gov. Matt Bevin took office.
Unlike some other states, where Republican incumbents are concerned that Donald Trump could negatively affect their races, many Kentucky Republicans are trying to tie themselves to Trump.
They’re also trying to associate Democratic candidates with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, a strategy Democratic leaders predict will backfire.
“Every race is a local race,” said Daniel Lowry, communications director for the Kentucky Democratic Party. “We’re not the national Democratic Party, we’re the Kentucky Democratic Party.”
Here are seven House races to watch over the next two months. There’s no guarantee these races will be close, or that these will be the races that end up deciding who controls the House, but they’re at least interesting.
House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, is stepping down from the legislature, leaving an open seat in Barren County and part of Warren County. While Barren County has more Democrats than Republicans, it has been trending Republican in recent years, much like the region surrounding it.
The race is between Democrat Danny Basil, an attorney in Glasgow, and Republican Steve Riley, a teacher and basketball coach.
As of May, the most recent data available, Riley was leading Basil in money raised. Riley had $37,474 to Basil’s $22,835.
State Rep. Denny Butler, R-Louisville, switched his party affiliation to Republican shortly after Gov. Matt Bevin was elected. That decision could leave him vulnerable in a district that supported President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
He’s running against Democrat McKenzie Cantrell, a Louisville lawyer and product of Emerge Kentucky, an organization that focuses on recruiting and training female candidates for office.
Butler was elected to the House in 2012. He is a former police officer and said he switched parties because he was frustrated with Democratic leadership’s stance on allocating funds for police officers and firefighters.
The race was tight in terms of donations this spring. Butler had collected about $50,000, while Cantrell collected about $42,000.
However, the Republican Party of Kentucky recently purchased radio ads on behalf of several candidates, but Butler wasn’t on their list.
State Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, was the other of two Democrats who switched to the Republican Party shortly after Bevin was elected. Where Butler’s district is firmly planted in pro-union territory, Gooch represents four Western Kentucky counties that have voted Republican in presidential races since 2000.
Gooch is being challenged by Democrat Jim Townsend, a long-time Webster County judge.
Though money doesn’t mean everything in smaller state races, Gooch had raised more than $35,000 as of May, compared to less than $10,000 by Townsend.
State Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, who made national news when her gun accidentally fired in the Capitol Annex in 2014, is stepping down after 9 years in office.
Democrat Angie Hatton and Republican Frank Justice are trying to take her place in the district that includes Letcher County and a portion of Pike County. The area has historically been Democratic territory, but Republicans think they can flip the district as people in the region flock to Trump.
Hatton is the assistant Letcher County Attorney and won 60 percent of the Democratic vote in the primary. Justice is the former mayor of Pikeville and won a four-way race for the Republican nomination with 39 percent of the Republican vote.
State Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville, has alleged that Bevin threatened political retribution late last year if he didn’t switch parties.
Meyer didn’t switch and he now faces Republican Robert Gullette, an attorney in Nicholasville, on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Gullette and Meyer ran unopposed in the primary, when Gullette raised about $12,000 and Meyer raised about $70,000.
State Rep. John Short, D-Mallie, was mentioned by a witness this year in a federal vote-buying investigation in Magoffin County that led to several convictions. Short has not been charged with a crime, but he has refused to talk about the allegation that he told someone to do “whatever it took” to get him elected.
His challenger, retired Kentucky State Police trooper John Blanton, has said he doesn’t want to attack Short on the issue, but the Kentucky Republican Party has been happy to do that on Blanton’s behalf. The district, which includes Knott and Magoffin counties and a portion of Pike County, will likely vote Republican in national races on Nov. 8.
Short had raised about $24,000 as of May, while Blanton had raised about $17,000.
State Rep. Chuck Tackett, D-Georgetown, won a tight special election this spring by a little more than 200 votes.
Now Phillip Pratt, the owner of a landscaping company, wants a rematch in Owen County and portions of Scott and Fayette counties.
The state GOP has purchased radio ads in the district, which was represented by Republican Ryan Quarles until he was elected commissioner of agriculture last year.
Pratt raised $5,703 this spring, compared to $11,529 for Tackett.